Doomed Planet

COP15: Day 12

The ambition for the city of Copenhagen to have its name bandied around as a major international treaty, like the Kyoto Protocol, is officially over.

After two weeks of mostly show-ponying by negotiators, ministers, and now leaders the Copenhagen Conference has resulted in a weak Copenhagen Accord to commit countries to further cooperative efforts to cut emissions, and that is really about it.

Unsurprisingly green groups are outraged, but it begs the question – why? The Kyoto Protocol was a monumental failure and didn’t deliver any significant emissions reductions but still rallied activist and political campaigns to dupe the public into thinking its ratification would mean something. Why don’t they just go on that roundabout again?

To their credit leaders have managed to whittle down the pre-conference one hundred and eighty-odd pages of negotiating text down to just three, but it has come at the expense of meaning anything.

Some negotiators were clearly hanging out for President Obama’s arrival to either charm leaders out of their established negotiating positions or bring something new to the table. He did neither.

Instead Obama’s short speech to the conference plenary was probably the most insulting and patronising speech delivered by a US President in a long time. Obama poorly understood the mood of the audience and chose to behave like an infallible school master lecturing children about the importance of keeping their socks up to maintain school dignity, rather than appealing to each leader’s hopes to share in collective victory. It was put best by a journalist from The Guardian that Obama’s speech received “polite applause”.

Reportedly there was a lot of “mistrust” in negotiations, with bitterness in the mouths of some countries who have experienced the behaviour of leaders, like Kevin Rudd, who has allegedly personally bullied small Pacific island nations into gaining support for Australia’s position. But small Pacific island nations clearly responded to Rudd with the strength bullies cannot counter.

Now the politicking of the conference, at least in the English language press, has veered sharply in favour of Europe and the United States who have made it clear they believed the major barrier to an agreement was China. But calling out an entire country with a culture that believes in the importance of "saving face" is unlikely to prompt endearment.

Instead Western leaders appeared to be accepting what the Chinese negotiators have been whispering for two days – worthwhile negotiations are over. As a consequence they’re calling out China to try and save their own "face" for when their domestic constituencies rightly criticise them for lumping so much false hope onto the outcome of a conference any considered observer knew wasn’t going to deliver before it started.

The Australian population now rightly should be asking Kevin Rudd why he kept pointing to a presumed new Copenhagen treaty to justify his failed Emissions Trading Scheme when he knew deep down it was misleading at best, and deceptive at worst. 

Negotiations continued late into the night with the ambition of the US delegation to bring China to the table with a signing pen in hand. It appears to have succeeded. But rather than being remembered for a significant global commitment to cut carbon emissions the city of Copenhagen is likely to be recognised as the first of many uncrossed hurdles to secure a credible post-Kyoto pact.

Tim Wilson is Director of the Climate and Trade Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs and is blogging from Copenhagen at

See Tim Wilson’s previous reports:

COP15: Opening Ceremony

COP15: Day 2

COP15: Day 3 

COP15: Day 4

COP15: Day 5

COP15: Day 6

COP15: Day 7

COP15: Day 8

COP15: Day 9

COP15: Day 10

COP15: Day 11

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